Monday, April 30, 2012

Howard Hawks' A Girl in Every Port plays at Stanford

As part of their Howard Hawks festival (through June 24th), the Stanford Theater in Palo Alto, California is set to screens Hawks' 1928 silent film, A Girl in Every Port, on Wednesday May 2th at 7:30 pm. A Girl in Every Port will be screened as part of a double bill with another seldom screened Hawks' silent, Fig Leaves (1926). Dennis James will accompany at the organ. 

A vintage film poster
not from a California theater
Apparently, this is the first time A Girl in Every Port will be screened at the historic Standford, which opened in 1925 and has served for decades as Palo Alto's premier movie house. 

According to my records, most every one of Brooks' American silent films played at the Stanford, except for Love Em and Leave Em (1926) and A Girl in Every Port. When the film did play in Palo Alto (a lively college town adjoining Stanford University), it played at the nearby Varsity theater. Why it did so is hard to say, but it may have been because of the booking practices of the day. Most all of Brooks' American silent films were made for Paramount, except for A Girl in Every Port, which was made for Fox. Then, local theaters generally only showed films from particular studios.

The film, which stars Victor McLaglen, Robert Armstrong and Louise Brooks, proved popular pretty much where ever it showed.

Here is a record of where the film played in northern California during the 1920s. I put together this record by scouring dozens of local newspapers in nearly as many libraries. Many of these these theaters still stand. My favorite theater name among them is the "Reel Joy" in King City.

Alhambra in Sacramento (Mar. 16-19, 1928); Pantages in San Francisco (Mar. 17-23, 1928); Liberty in St. Helena (Mar. 29-30, 1928); California in Petaluma (Apr. 4-5, 1928); Grand Lake in Oakland (Apr. 14-20, 1928); Oroville Theatre in Oroville (Apr. 20-21, 1928); California in San Jose (Apr. 21-23, 1928); California in Berkeley (Apr. 25-28, 1928); Royal in South San Francisco (Apr. 30, 1928); Modesto Theater in Modesto (May 6, 1928); California in Sacramento (May 12, 1928); North Sacramento Theater in Sacramento (May 13, 1928); National in Woodland (May 14-15, 1928); Majestic in Benicia (May 24, 1928); Varsity in Palo Alto (May 25-26, 1928); California in Pittsburg (May 27-28, 1928); Hippodrome in Napa (May 29-30, 1928); Lorin in Berkeley (May 30-31, 1928); Golden State in Monterey (June 3, 1928); Opal in Hollister (June 11-12, 1928); California in Richmond (June 15-16, 1928); Oaks in Berkeley (June 17-18, 1928); Princess in Sausalito (June 19, 1928); Sequoia in Sacramento (June 20-21, 1928); Casa Grande in Santa Clara (June 24, 1928); Fairfax in Oakland (July 1, 1928 with Three’s a Crowd); Lincoln in Oakland (July 1, 1928 with Spoilers of the West); Strand in Gilroy (July 1, 1928); New Fillmore in San Francisco (July 3-5, 1928); New Mission in San Francisco (July 3-5, 1928); Rivoli in Berkeley (July 8, 1928 with The Red Raiders); Alexandria in San Francisco (July 20-21, 1928); Senator in Oakland (July 21, 1928); New Balboa in San Francisco (July 29, 1928 with When the Wife’s Away); Haight in San Francisco (Aug. 2-3, 1928); Merced Theatre in Merced (Aug. 4, 1928); New Roseville Theatre in Roseville (Aug. 8-9, 1929); Hester in San Jose (Aug. 9-10, 1928); Palace in San Leandro (Aug. 12, 1928); California in Salinas (Aug. 15, 1928); Allendale Theater in Oakland (Aug. 16-17, 1928); New Lyceum in San Francisco (Aug. 21-22, 1928); Reel Joy in King City (Aug. 23-24, 1928); Excelsior in San Francisco (Aug. 31, 1928); New State in San Francisco (Aug. 31, 1928); Fern in Oakland (Sept. 10-11, 1928); State in Ukiah (Sept. 16, 1928); Appleton in Watsonville (Sept. 26, 1928); Fortuna Theater in Fortuna (Oct. 4, 1928); Hayward Theatre in Hayward (Oct. 12, 1928); New San Mateo Theater in San Mateo (Oct. 13, 1928); Roosevelt in San Francisco (Oct. 29-30, 1928); Majestic in San Francisco (Nov. 10, 1928); Washington in San Francisco (Nov. 17, 1928); Century in Oakland (Dec. 13, 1928 with The Whip Woman).

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Music in Pandora's Box: Sid Kay's Fellows

If you have seen Pandora's Box, then you may have noticed the musical group playing at the wedding reception in act 4. The name of the group, at times cut off by the camera or somewhat obscured by the movements of various characters, can be spotted on the group's drum kit. They are a six member group called Sid Kay's Fellows.

As it turns out, they were a real musical act of the time. Founded in 1926 and led by Sigmund Petruschka ("Sid" - pictured center) and Kurt Kaiser ("Kay"), Sid Kay's Fellows were a popular ten member dance band in Berlin. This jazz ensemble performed at the Haus Vaterland (a leading Berlin night-spot) between 1930 and 1932. And in 1933, they accompanied the great Sidney Bechet during his recitals in the German capitol. Sid Kay's Fellows also accompanied various theatrical performances and played in Munich, Dresden, Frankfurt, Vienna, Budapest, Barcelona and elsewhere.

From what I have been able to find out, the group's depiction in Pandora's Box (filmed in late 1928)  predates their career as recording artists. In 1933, when the Nazis came to power, Sid Kay's Fellows were forbidden to perform publicly. They disbanded, and transformed themselves into a studio orchestra and made recordings for the Jewish label Lukraphon. Most all of their recordings seem to date from around this time, the early to mid-1930s. [Some of these scattered recordings, then issued on 78rpm records, can now be found on an out-of-print multi-disc set called Beyond Recall: A Record of Jewish Musical Life in Nazi Berlin, 1933-1938 (Bear Family Records, 2001).]

Here is a representative recording by Sid Kay's Fellows. It dates from 1930, and would, I guess, have been similar to the kind of dance music played during the wedding reception scene in Pandora's Box. Who knows, perhaps Brooks visited the Haus Vaterland or some of the other places depicted in this video.

Not all that much is known about Sid Kay's Fellows. Under the name "John Kay," band leader Kurt Kaiser had also, at one time, been a member of the famous Weintraubs Syncopators (founded 1924), whose members included Friedrich Holländer. That group appeared in The Blue Angel (1930), starring Marlene Dietrich, a film for which Holländer wrote the music including the famous hit song, "Falling in Love Again." I don't know if Kaiser was still playing with the group when they appeared in The Blue Angel. His fate from the 1930s onward is not known.

Sigmund Petrushka (1903-1997) was born Sigmund Leo Friedmann in Leipzig, Germany and grew up in a Jewish orthodox family. In 1933, Sid Kay's Fellows disbanded and he, under the name Shabtai Petrushka, founded a new musical group, while playing with The Orchestra of the Jewish Cultural Society and composing music for various plays. Using pseudonyms to disguise his being Jewish (as noted, there was a ban on Jewish musicians), Petrushka worked as a music arranger for Deutsche Gramophone and UFA films. In 1934, his fox-trot titled "Flying Hamburger" was recorded by James Kok for the Deutsche Gramophone label. In 1938, Petrushka was allowed to immigrate to Palestine, where his sister had been living since the 1920s.

Petrushka went on to a distinguished career: he joined the Palestine Broadcasting Service as composer, conductor and arranger of its orchestra. And in the first decade of the independent State of Israel, Petrushka served as Deputy director of the Music Programs Department of “Kol Yerushalaym” (“Voice of Jerusalem”). In 1958, he was appointed the Director of Music Section in “Kol Israel” ("Voice of Israel”), a post he held until his retirement. Some of Petrushka's recordings from the mid-1930's can be heard on this webpage devoted to Yiddish music.

If you are interested in finding out more, be sure and check out Michael H. Kater's Different Drummers: Jazz in the Culture of Nazi Germany (Oxford University Press, 1992). There are also many available CDs of music from the time, including Berlin By Night (EMI, 1991), TanzSzene Berlin 1930 (Bob's Music, 2004), and German Tango Bands 1925-1939 (Harlequin, 1999). I have each of them, and like them a lot. Some of their tracks can be heard on RadioLulu, the online radio station of the Louise Brooks Society.

When Pandora's Box debuted in Berlin in February of 1929, an orchestra playing a musical score accompanied the film. The score was reviewed in at least one of the Berlin newspapers. The score, however, does not apparently survive. And what is also not known is if the music of Sid Kay's Fellows, or any sort of jazz, played a part in the music of Pandora's Box.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

What Becomes a Legend: Louise Brooks in Pandora's Box

What Becomes a Legend: Louise Brooks in Pandora's Box
Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan penned a brief notice of today's screening of Pandora's Box, with live musical accompaniment by Michael Mortilla, at the Getty Center in L.A. The article asks, "What Becomes a Legend?" 

In the case of silent film star Louise Brooks, who stars in G.W. Pabst's 1929 masterpiece, the answer is she becomes an icon - and her best known role, as Lulu in Pandora's Box, is screened once again. Actually, it was screened for the second time in a week in the United States.

Pandora's Box was shown just a few days ago, on Wednesday, April 25th, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin at that city's historic Oriental Theater. A group called Milwaukee Film partnered with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Center for International Education’s (CIE) conference, World Cinemas, Global Networks to host this screening of Pabst’s silent film with live musical accompaniment by Swedish film score composer, Matti Bye. [The clip embedded on this announcement page, it should be noted, features Stuart Oderman's classic score - in my opinion the very best contemporary score.]

By all accounts, the Milwaukee screening was a big success. Matt Mueller wrote a piece on the Third Coast Digest website reviewing the event. Mueller wrote "Audiences at Wednesday night’s screening at the Oriental Theatre were not only treated to a stellar silent film, but also the ideal musical score. Swedish film score composer Matti Bye’s dread-filled piano accompaniment fit Pandora’s Box beautifully, building tension throughout the entire movie and even delivering one of the more satisfying cinematic jolts in recent memory."

I, for one, am looking forward to someday hearing Matti Bye’s piano accompaniment to Pandora's Box. Perhaps someday soon. [Be sure and check out the Mueller piece and its accompanying images of Pandora's Box being screened in the historic Oriental, which was built in 1927.]

Friday, April 27, 2012

Pandora's Box screens at Getty Museum in L.A.

The Getty Center in Los Angeles is currently exhibiting the work of photographer Herb Ritts (through August 26). The exhibit, "Herb Ritts L.A. Style," pivots on the notion that Ritts revolutionized fashion photography, modernized the nude, and transformed celebrities into icons.

And indeed, Ritts (1952–2002) developed a distinctive, highly stylized vision, and fashioned himself into one of the top photographers to emerge in the 1980s. 

As anyone who visits the exhibit will see, many of Ritts' photographs recall the glamour of Hollywood's golden age (all the way back to the silent era), a time when celebrities were often depicted as flawless and larger than life. Ritts' relationship with his subjects echoes that of the film director who discovers the remarkable qualities of an actor in his or her star-making role. 

Adjunct to the Ritts' exhibit, the Getty Center is screening several films which feature a singular actor in a star-making role. One of those films is The Sheik (1921) with Rudolph Valentino. Another is Pandora's Box (1929), starring Louise Brooks. In the G.W. Pabst masterpiece, Brooks created a character to whom she would always be linked - Lulu, a woman who blatantly defied accepted sexual and societal roles.

Pandora's Box
, with live piano accompaniment by Michael Mortilla, is set to screen Saturday, April 28 at 7:00 p.m. at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, California. [The Sheik will be shown at 3:00 pm.] The Center is located at 1200 Getty Center Drive, approximately 12 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. 

Reservations for this free event and further information about the screening can be found at

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Dodge Brothers

Nobody does Beggars of Life like The Dodge Brothers. The UK-based group plays an exuberant hybrid of old-time American music - country blues, jug band, rock-a-billy and swing. And they do so accompanying silent films, notably the 1928 Louise Brooks vehicle, Beggars of Life.

The Dodge Brothers play what might be termed "roots music." Described as "wonderful stuff" on British radio, the band has gained a large reputation across the UK for putting on a show.

Twice within the coming week, The Dodge Brothers will accompany Beggars of Life. On Saturday, April 21, the band performed at a free outdoor screening of the film at the 18th Bradford International Film Festival in Bradford, England. And on April 29, Beggars of Life (1928) will screen at Barbican as part of its silent film & live music series. This screening will feature live musical accompaniment by The Dodge Brothers, with guest musician Neil Brand on the piano.

To date, The Dodge Brothers have released two albums. The group is made up of  Mike Hammond (lead guitar, lead vocals), Mark Kermode (bass, harmonica, vocals) - who also works as a film critic and broadcaster, Aly Hirji (rhythm guitar, mandolin, vocals), and Alex Hammond (washboard, snare drum, percussion). Brand, well known in the UK as a silent film accompanist, has sat in with the group on a number of occasions.

Mike Hammond - the group's singer (and silent film expert) answered a few questions a while back about their music, Louise Brooks, and silent film. 

Thomas Gladysz:   The Dodge Brothers will accompanied the Louise Brooks' film, Beggars of Life, twice in the coming weeks. For those not familiar with the Dodge Brothers, what can you tell us about the group? 

Dodge Brothers: Well here is the short version. The Dodge Brothers are a four-piece band modeled on the skiffle and jug bands of the 20s and 30s. Each of us plays more than one instrument, Aly plays acoustic guitar and mandolin, Alex plays washboard, snare and wine bottle, I play guitar, banjo, piano and tap dance while Mark plays double bass, harmonicas, accordion and is soon to unveil his prowess on the bag pipes. 
We started from a love of the music that leads up to Elvis, which ranges widely from railroad songs, murder ballads to ragged street blues. We got going learning ten songs (‘Frankie and Johnny’ and ‘Stagger Lee’ among others) and over the years we have amassed about 150 songs. A couple of years ago we started to write our own songs that resulted in our album Louisa and the Devil. Mark started this by bringing in Church House Blues and saying it was by an old jug band. We still do that; if it fools the rest of us into believing its authentic then we play it. (Did I say short version?)

Thomas Gladysz: With that said, what can one expect  - musically speaking, when you accompany Beggars of Life?

Dodge Brothers:  The score for the film will draw from those old songs from the period. I am a silent film scholar and I know that Paramount had the most film theatres in the rural areas so it was not uncommon for them to release different versions of films, one for the big cities and one for the rural towns. I have kept this in mind when thinking about the score. 

The lovely Troubadors version of Beggars of Life was meant as a theme for the film and we will be incorporating a version of that but combining it with motifs which call up railroad songs that were popular during the period, particularly those by Jimmie Rogers. Lots of those songs are really about hobos riding the rails and they have a wonderful wistfulness about them, a mixture of loneliness and humor that both fits the film and the way we play.

Thomas Gladysz:   Beggars of Life is unlike any of Brooks' earlier American films. Had you seen it before? And what were your impressions?

Dodge Brothers:  You’re so right about it being an exceptional Brooks film. Most people associate her with the Jazz Age flapper-type but in this film she plays a girl on the run, dressed as a boy! None of us had seen the film before and it was our fifth member, the fabulous pianist and silent film composer Neil Brand, who drew it to our attention. Brooks really ‘pops’ out of the screen and holds her own with Wallace Beery, which is no mean feat. The tension that is generated by her masquerade as a boy amongst a lot of rough hobos is tight as a drum. There is a real sense of menace and danger from the beginning where ‘The Girl’ (Louise) takes matters into her own hands with a firearm. She reminds me of Louisa in our song The Ballad of Frank Harris. Maybe that’s what I really like about this film, she is self-sufficient and an equal partner with Arlen. And she can shoot a gun! 

Thomas Gladysz: Are you a fan of Louise Brooks?

Dodge Brothers: Oh yes and not only because of the fact that she is the most compelling of screen stars. She is intuitive as an actress and gives the sense that she is being rather than acting. I do think Pabst understood that best. However, I am as big a fan of her writing. She is incisive and brutal in her analysis of Hollywood and, perhaps most touching, of herself. 

Thomas Gladysz:  When did you first come across the actress?

Dodge Brothers: I can’t speak for the rest of the guys. I first saw her in an undergraduate film class in the 80s. It was Pandora’s Box. I remember thinking; of course these guys are giving away everything for her, who wouldn’t?

Thomas Gladysz:   Louise Brooks has been getting the musical treatment. Rufus Wainwright released a musical tribute to Louise Brooks titled All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu. And of course, it was preceded by earlier rock and pop musical tributes by the likes of Orchestral Manuevers in the Dark (OMD), Marillion, Australian Jen Anderson, Soul Coughing, and others - even the cartoonist Robert Crumb. Where might your score fit into this history?

Dodge Brothers: Well all of these tributes are really great and it’s nice to be in their company. I haven’t heard Rufus Wainwright’s but I guess in this history we will probably be closer to R. Crumb’s. We are trying to bring a flavour of the kind of music that might have been played in the rural areas of the US to this film. 

Remember that the orchestras in most of those theatres at the time would have been as small as a quartet. They also played to their audience who would have known the railroad songs as well as the popular tunes of the day so they would mix them up. We’ll be doing something similar and hopefully support the wide-ranging emotions in this film, from lonesome and sad, to tender, to fast action and gunplay. Louise does it all here and, come to think of it, that’s a good description of The Dodge Brothers’ music too.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Louise Brooks celebrated in London, England

As fans know, Louise Brooks made her first big splash in England in 1924, when she became the first girl to dance the Charleston in London. That was at the city's famous Cafe de Paris, then only recently opened. Brooks, a precocious dancer and showgirl, was 17 years old at the time.

Now, more than 85 years later, the late, legendary silent film star is set to be the toast of London once more as two of her very best films are scheduled to be shown in the coming days.

On April 13th, the Classic Cinema Club of Ealing will screen Pandora's Box (1929) at the Ealing Town Hall. The film will be followed by a discussion.

And on April 29, Beggars of Life (1928) will screen at the Barbican center as part of its silent film & live music series. This screening will feature live musical accompaniment by The Dodge Brothers, with special guest Neil Brand on the piano.

Today, Brooks is best known for her role as Lulu in the German-made Pandora's Box, G.W. Pabst's late silent masterpiece. Pandora’s Box tells the story of Lulu, a lovely, amoral, and somewhat petulant show-girl whose flirtations lead to devastating encounters. Lulu was played by Brooks, an American actress especially recruited for the iconic German role.

Close Up, an English film journal of the time with an interest in adventuresome German cinema, noted "Louise Brooks is not chosen because she is Louise Brooks but because, for whatever reason, she looks likely to find it easier than anyone else might, to sink into and become a visual expression of Lulu in Pandora’s Box."

Brooks inhabited her character thoroughly and gives a great performance. Despite having appeared in 23 other films - some of them also very good, Brooks' role as Lulu is the one with which she is most identified. So much so, in fact, that it is not unusual for articles or web pages today to refer to the actress by the name of Lulu. If you haven't seen Pandora’s Box, don't miss this UK opportunity to see one of the great performances in film history on the big screen.

Little seen and long obscure, Beggars of Life is a film whose reputation is picking up steam.

Directed by William Wellman the year after he made Wings (the first film to win an Academy Award), Beggars of Life is a gripping drama about a girl (played by Brooks) dressed as a boy who flees the law after killing her abusive stepfather. On the run, she rides the rails through a male dominated hobo underworld in which danger is always close at hand. An American film magazine of the time, Picture Play, described the film as "Sordid, grim and unpleasant," though added "it is nevertheless interesting and is certainly a departure from the usual movie."

And that it is. But what's more, this special screening is a fine example of how invigorating the combination of a great silent movie and contemporary live music can be. The Dodge Brothers, an Americana-drenched roots music quartet featuring English film critic Mark Kermode on bass and harmonica, will accompany the film. When The Dodge Brothers accompanied Beggars of Life at the British Film Institute a years ago, they wowed a packed audience.

April will also see the release in England of a new novel inspired, in part, by Brooks early life. Laura Moriarty 's The Chaperone (Penguin) tells the story of Brooks' 1922 journey from Wichita, Kansas to New York City to join the Denishawn Dance Company, then America's leading modern dance troupe. Brooks was only 15 years old, and she was accompanied by a middle aged chaperone, whose story the novel also tells. We at the Louise Brooks Society are looking forward to its release in the United States next month.

Pictured above is the UK cover. Thanks to the great Meredith Lawrence for alerting us to
its publication "over there."

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Louise Brooks to Siboney

Not sure if the editor of this video knew or not, but "Siboney" was a favorite of Louise Brooks. She recommends it as a dance number in her 1940 booklet, The Fundamentals of Ballroom Dancing. Brooks recommend the Xavier Cugat version, and a version of that classic song can be heard on RadioLulu.

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